By: Autum Meyers for LaPorteCounty.Life Last Updated: February 14, 2023
For years, Paladin has served the community through many different wonderful programs, but Paladin’s mission goes beyond service. Paladin is committed to not only providing high-quality early childhood programs but teaching the community more about these programs and why they are so special.
The Head Start program originally started in 1965 when the Economic Opportunity Act was signed. It started out as a program meant to fight the effects of poverty and help low-income children get access to education. Since then, many myths about the Head Start program have come about that prevent people from understanding what the program truly is: a flourishing program that has an immeasurable impact on children and their families.
“I think that people might get stuck on the idea that Head Start is only this old program that started when we were trying to fight poverty and get low-income individuals access to education. While that may have been its roots, we’ve expanded services. Head Start really is about comprehensive early childhood development,” said Melissa Bohacek, Paladin’s development and marketing officer.
Head Start has grown in so many ways. When most people think about Head Start, they most likely think of it the way it originally started: as a program for low-income families. It’s true that the biggest qualifying factor is income, but there are so many other things that are taken into consideration today.
One of the biggest things that Paladin looks at when considering a family for the program is the risk factors in a child’s life. Paladin’s enrollment specialists look at the family dynamic–whether a child is in a two-parent household, a single-family household, a foster child, or a child being raised by other family members. They look at things such as whether a child has family members who are incarcerated or if a child’s parents graduated from high school.
Paladin strives to welcome families into the Head Start program who need it the most, and understands that need isn’t always income based. Additionally, Paladin is committed to early intervention in children with disabilities. Paladin always goes out of its way to serve children with disabilities and give them an opportunity to learn in the same model as other children.
Another thing people most likely imagine when they hear about Head Start is a program that simply prepares children for kindergarten. Head Start does help prepare children for school, but, unlike other programs, it doesn’t just prepare them for kindergarten and the program prepares more than just the child. Head Start prepares the entire family for school and that makes an incredible difference.
“We get the family ready for school just as much as the child. We know what makes a child successful in school, more than any other data, is not income or the amount of money spent on a child. Instead, it’s the involvement of the family. If the family is engaged in the process of school and advocates for their child, then the child is more likely to have positive outcomes and a positive school experience,” said Theresa Argueta, director of early childhood programs.
The last thing that many people misleadingly believe about Head Start is that it’s a more rigid, old-school program. This is far from the truth. Head Start is actually a very flexible, progressive program that is community-based.
Paladin’s Head Start program has a policy council, which is a group of parents with children in the program that help determine the direction and goals of the program. As the community and families change, the Head Start program changes with them, and new ideas are always being brought up and implemented.
“One of our policy council dads was walking through the building and he said, ‘Hey, do you think I could hold gym class for the kids once a week?’ That wasn’t a part of our program, but now it is all because he decided that he’s going to give the kids gym class. That’s huge, and we’re so honored to foster an environment where families can come and have their voices be lifted up and listened to,” said Argueta.
What also makes Head Start a unique, avant-garde program is its Reggio Emilia curriculum. In this curriculum, children are encouraged to shape their own learning. Instead of having someone sit down and teach specific things to a child, teachers help the kids explore and discover their interests by providing them with all kinds of different tools. Children are central to the learning process, not just passive recipients of knowledge.
So, at the end of the day, Head Start isn’t the standard, outdated early childhood program that many people mistakenly believe it is. Instead, it is a unique, flexible program that sets young children of various backgrounds as well as their families on the path to success.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter program. Every Head start looks different and ours is specific to our community’s needs. Also, it’s not just a program for mothers and children. It’s a program for families and children. Whether that family is a two-parent household, a single-parent household, or a foster family. We are for all families,” said Argueta.
For people interested in Head Start and all it has to offer, learning more about the program and starting the enrollment process for a child is simple. On Paladin’s website there is a pre-enrollment questionnaire that people can fill out to help Paladin’s enrollment specialists determine their eligibility. People can also call the number 873-2146 to make an appointment with an enrollment specialist or determine their eligibility over the phone.
To learn more about Paladin and its unique early childhood programs, visit https://paladin.care/.